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Since writing my last question, I've been able to write a handful more items and have tried to nail down some more specific items I can ask about improving my writing. This issue became readily apparent.

In writing programming code, I've found that it can be really easy for things to just wash together so you can't see what is there. I've found many times that something I struggled with one day was easily solvable by going back the next day and looking simply because everything washed together and I didn't see something.

I'm finding that in my writing, as well, especially if it has markup in it. I can write something and then put it away and come back about 2-4 weeks later and see stupid things like poor phrasing that renders the expressed idea into nonsense, grammar issues, and so on. Now obviously, I can't sit on everything I do that long without moving onto something else, but I find even that I don't see things in the next day or two because what I want to say is so ingrained in my mind that I substitute that for what is actually being said by the written word.

So how do you get around the aspect of your writing being so fresh in your mind that you can't see what is actually being communicated by it?

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5 Answers 5

For something book-length, just don't do your re-read immediately. Don't Write chapter 1, re-read and update chapter 1, write chapter 2, re-read and update chapter 2, etc. Instead, write chapter 1, write chapter 2, re-read and update chapter 1, write chapter 3, re-read and update chapter 2, etc. When you're done with the whole book, then go back and re-read the whole thing and do more updates. By the time I finished my books I must have read every word at least four or five times.

Also, get someone else to read it and tell you what they think. I've had a few times where I had a chain of logic that made perfect sense to me, than I showed it to someone else and she said, "Wait, how did you get from step 3 to step 4?" In a novel it might be more like, "Wait, why would Sally suddenly decide to call her brother?" As the writer you have all sorts of information about the characters or the subject in your head that may never make it to the paper. Sometimes this leaves gaps for the reader that you just can't see because you're too close to it. (Like, "But Sally and her brother are very close. She always calls him when she's in trouble. Oh yeah, I guess I never mentioned that in the story, did I? And I cut out the two previous references to her brother because they were slowing down the plot, so now this just comes out of nowhere ...")

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A good way to assess yourself from a new point of view is to:

Read your work out loud.

Your ear catches things your eye misses, both on the level of content and form. Some things your ears will notice better than your eyes:

  • unwanted repetition of words and phrases
  • word choice
  • how well you've achieved a desired tone
  • rhythm
  • emotional range
  • how real/believable/human you sound

Writers tend to think of communicating from page to brain, but it's worth reminding ourselves from time to time that story writing was born of an oral tradition.

Here are a couple links that discuss this topic:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/katelee/2012/08/01/to-write-like-a-human-read-your-work-out-loud/

http://www.juliamccutchen.com/blog/?p=697

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I just completed my last piece of work and just slowed down and did this, and ended up rewording a lot of it. I've seen this advice before, but I guess speed matters a lot too. –  Glenn1234 Jan 3 '13 at 8:04
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Don't re-read your work immediately.

Just write. Keep yourself on track with your outline (you have an outline of some kind, right? Even if you're a pantser, you have some idea of where the story is going) and don't look over what you did for however long you need to lose familiarity with it.

If you need two weeks, then write for two weeks and don't look at anything you've written until 14 days have passed. In fact, you could even try starting each day with a fresh document and not allowing yourself to look at anything less than 14 days old (date each document).

You don't want to stop writing, but you can stop re-reading. Or as SF. notes, try working on two things at once.

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  • Take breaks, spread it out in time.

  • Change perspective. Take proofreading to a park. Take it to a pub. Change your environment. This isn't very efficient but it helps some.

  • Have some other person to read it and point out shortcomings.

  • If your productivity suffers due to breaks, work on a few things in parallel. Write two different novels a scene at a time, skipping between one and the other, and squeeze a short story or two in between.

  • Edit, edit, edit, edit. I usually spend two-three times as long editing as writing. And I often go back to editing first chapters while still writing later ones, way before the end of the novel.

  • If an imagery of given, further section is vivid, write it out of sequence. Squeeze it out to free your mind for writing the parts at hand. Use it later, when its time comes.

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You have to look at it in a different way, different perspective, different mindset or different time frame. Go away and do something different, come back and look at it again.

Anything you write will generally need to go through a number of revision, editing and proof reading stages to correct and sharpen the writing. Whether you apply these as actual stages or whether you do them instinctively and innately is up to you and how you work.

When you first write something you should really only consider it as a rough draft or mind dump of thoughts and ideas. The above stages then mould and shape this into a final draft which should be free of grammatical, spelling errors, cliches etc.

You're probably thinking, gee that's going to be a lot of work, but as you become more experienced you'll become faster and more accurate in how and what you write which ultimately means less revision stages and hopefully less corrections to go through.

The more you write, the more you edit and revise the faster and more accurate you will become.

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